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In this stirring collection of linked stories, Linda LeGarde Grover portrays an Ojibwe community struggling to follow traditional ways of life in the face of a relentlessly changing world. In the title story an aunt recounts the harsh legacy of Indian boarding schools that tried to break the indigenous culture. In doing so she passes on to her niece the Ojibwe tradition of honoring elders through their stories. In "Refugees Living and Dying in the West End of Duluth," this same niece comes of age in the 1970s against the backdrop of her forcibly dispersed family. A cycle of boarding schools, alcoholism, and violence haunts these stories even as the characters find beauty and solace in their large extended families. With its attention to the Ojibwe language, customs, and history, this unique collection of riveting stories illuminates the very nature of storytelling. The Dance Boots narrates a century's evolution of Native Americans making choices and compromises, often dictated by a white majority, as they try to balance survival, tribal traditions, and obligations to future generations.
Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. In addition to The Dance Boots, she has written The Road Back to Sweetgrass, a novel, and the poetry chapbook The.Indian.at.Indian.School, as well as stories, poetry and articles published in many journals and anthologies. Linda is a native Duluthian and a Denfeld graduate, as are her thirteen younger siblings. Her writing reflects the experiences of Ojibwe people of northern Minnesota, told through fictional stories that include foundational Ojibwe beliefs and values, families and Indian boarding schools, federal Indian policies over the past century, and the survival and revitalization of family, community and tribal culture.
1. The book begins with Shirley calling her niece, Artense, to tell her some of their family’s stories. What might be some of the reasons for which Shirley decided to do this?
2. The United States government began to dismantle the Indian boarding school system during the 1930s. Artense has stated that the schools were a “vast experiment in the breaking of a culture through the education of its young.” What were some of the experiences of the children who attended the fictional Harrold Indian Boarding School that support Artense’s statement? In what ways did the Indian boarding schools affect the individuals and families who attended them? In what ways do they continue to impact individuals and families today?
3. In what ways did some of the characters in The Dance Boots use humor as a means of coping with stressful situations?
4. In what ways did interactions between characters in this book remind you of interactions between characters in other books you have read? What cultural/social differences did you observe?
5. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story the way she did? What difference does it make in the way you read or understand it?
6. How well does the author convey the era? Did you come away with a greater understanding of what this particular time and place in history was actually like?
7. How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately or did it take a while to get into it. Were you surprised by the plot’s complications or did you find it predictable? Was the ending satisfying?
8. Why do the characters do what they do? Are their actions justified? Do they remind you of people you know? How do the characters change by the end of the book?
9. What main ideas does the author explore? Does the author use symbols to reinforce the main ideas?
10. What passages strike you as insightful, even profound?
11. If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask?
12. Has this novel changed you—broadened your perspective? Have you learned something new or been exposed to different ideas about people or a certain part of the world?
13. What did you like or dislike about the book that hasn’t been discussed already? Were you glad you read this book? Would you recommend it to a friend?